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Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1988 Apr 2;296(6627):978-81.

Changes in maternal age distribution and their possible impact on demand for prenatal diagnostic services.

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Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh, Western General Hospital.


Between 1977 and 1985 there was a 65% increase in births to women aged 35 or more in England and Wales, but only a 15% increase in all births. Two factors of roughly equal importance were responsible for this differential increase. Firstly, the proportion of older women (35-44) among all women of reproductive age (15-44) increased from 28% in 1977 to 31% in 1985; and, secondly, in the same period the fertility rate for women aged 35-39 increased from 18.2 to 24.1 per 1000 and for women aged 40-44 from 4.1 to 4.6 per 1000. The increased fertility rate among older women is not due to an extension of the reproductive period but to a delay in childbearing. This delay was seen in women married only once and also in those who had remarried. As prenatal diagnosis for the exclusion of chromosome abnormalities is customarily offered to older mothers the increased numbers of women aged 35 or more and their increased fertility rate have important implications for the provision of obstetric and laboratory services. There were 51,859 live births to women aged 35 and over in 1985; the projected figure for 2001 is 85,000. If the use of prenatal diagnosis continues to increase facilities for about 70,000 prenatal cytogenetic analyses will be needed in 2001.

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